Lorelai Vashti on Lucy Guerin
The American writer and humorist Fran Lebowitz once said she always thought writers had the most terrible, most difficult job in the world—until she sat in on a dance rehearsal and watched a choreographer do his work.
“My idea of pure hell,” she said of the choreographer’s role. “The dancers sit there waiting for him to come up with something. It would be as if the letters were sitting there, or the words, smoking cigarettes, staring at you, as if to say, Well? OK, come on.”
I’m pretty sure choreographer Lucy Guerin doesn’t think she’s stuck doing the worst job in the world. And I definitely don’t think the dancers in her company, Lucy Guerin Inc, stand around glaring at her impatiently, flicking cigarette ash into the floorboard cracks while they wait for Guerin’s muse to strike. The impression I got of her choreographic process was more of a conscientious scientist doing laboratory experiments; her approach to dance is questioning, active, exploratory. It’s a method that has led to the creation of the most interesting and thought-provoking contemporary dance works Australia has seen in the last decade.
Guerin grew up in Adelaide, and founded Lucy Guerin Inc in 2002. As a choreographer and director she has collaborated with many other artists, including her partner Gideon Obarzanek’s dance company, Chunky Move. Her work frequently incorporates voice, video, and sound, and is often disarmingly funny. In Human Interest Story, her company’s most recent piece, she had her dancers mimic the vocal stylings and body movements of newsreaders. There is one section when a dancer steps forward and narrates the movements of the dancers behind her, as if she is gravely commentating the footage accompanying a news story. It’s a fascinating effect in itself, but what really strikes me are the short, sharp inhalations of breath punctuating the speech of the dancer—even though her voice is leveled and controlled, her natural dancer’s breathlessness make her human, in a way newsreaders aren’t.
By the time I finally got Guerin on the phone I was a little out of breath myself. I was stuck out in NSW’s Hunter Valley for the weekend and the nightmare problems every interviewer dreads (the reception is bad! The tape recorder isn’t recording!) had devoured half an hour of our time. I was feeling flustered and sheepish when we finally got a clear connection but Guerin instantly put me at ease with her chatty and generous nature.
Despite the initial bad phone connection, my concern that I wouldn’t be able to hear Guerin’s voice was utterly absurd. I should have remembered from my research that the most distinctive thing about Guerin, no matter what she does, is that her voice always comes through loud and clear.